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For St. Paul woman, 92, her driving days are done

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 7, 2012 - 8:11 PM

Nine months after plowing into two St. Paul public works employees, leaving one without a left hand, Mabel Schleif, 92, was told by a Ramsey County district judge on Tuesday she never will drive again.

Minutes later, Craig Johnson, 41, grabbed his cane, draped a jacket over his left elbow and forearm, and walked out of the courtroom. He was there for closure, he said later. Now he looks forward to the day when he can set aside the cane and move about more freely.

"Every day is a new day," Johnson said of his long recovery -- and his hopes, too.

In addition to losing her driving privileges, Schleif was ordered by District Judge Gail Bohr to pay the maximum $1,000 fine and was put on probation for one year.

Schleif told the judge she was "profoundly sorry" for the accident.

Last week, a jury convicted her of careless and inattentive driving, both misdemeanors, in connection with the April 26 crash.

Johnson and co-worker Thomas Haack had been picking up garbage on N. Fairview Avenue under the Interstate 94 bridge when Schleif struck them. Johnson was pinned between Schleif's car and a public works truck that had been parked in the right lane with amber strobe lights flashing.

Schleif's attorney, Michael O'Neill, told jurors last week that she suffered a "silent heart attack" at the time of the accident.

Prosecutor Rachel Kraker argued that a driver behind Schleif's car did not see her make any movements that suggested she was unconscious.

Neither victim asked for jail time for Schleif.

After the sentencing, Johnson recalled the shock of losing his hand and of shouting to paramedics, "My kids, my kids, my kids." Today, he laments being unable to run after his 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and 9-year-old son, Craig. He cannot play catch or video games with them either, he added.

But he remains a city employee, and he is hopeful of returning to work. He enjoys the sun and likes to sweat but figures he won't shovel asphalt again.

To colleagues, Johnson says, "Be safe out there."

To everyone else, "Slow down.

"That's our office out there."

Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report. Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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